by Matthew Durrant · 08/03/2018
|West Didsbury & Chorlton
|Ryan Steele (39p)
Own Goal (40)
Kiel Lonsdale (75)
|Thomas Bailey (29)
Georgi Whyment (66)
Joseph Shaw (90)
West came home from Lancashire perhaps deserving three points, while still being fortuitous to have nicked one at the death in what turned out to be a thrilling 3 – 3 draw against an AFC Darwen side who certainly aren’t letting their relegation battle go without a struggle.
West were bolstered by the return of Matt Eckersley in defence – his first appearance since rejoining the club from Welsh side Cefn Druids – and former Darwen striker Chappy Massamba on the bench. Both players were to have their own impacts on the game.
In the opening 10 minutes, West looked the most likely to break the deadlock: Steer repeatedly found space down the right, but stout defending from the home side meant that there was rarely room to get a shot away. Even with the Darwen keeper suffering a few early hiccups – two crosses were spilled, with no-one to capitalise – the visitors struggled to take advantage of their early spell of dominance.
With the pitch quickly coming up, it took a moment of fortune for the deadlock to be broken: Tom Bailey, finding space 25 yards from goal, had a strike at goal. Taking a clip en route, the goalkeeper was unable to adjust to the deflection in time, leaving the ball to roll in and for West to take the lead around the half hour mark. This was Bailey’s 30th goal of the season: a richly deserved haul for one of the most talented players of our recent history.
From there, Darwen came into the game. Finding himself one on one with West goalkeeper Hodges – who had an impressive game all round – a Darwen attack chose to try round the keeper, going down under a challenge. A big shout for a penalty followed, but the referee agreed that Hodges had taken the ball. From the resulting corner, West weren’t to be so lucky twice. A ball whipped into a crowded area saw it hit a West hand: Ryan Steele dispatched the spot kick with the minimum of fuss.
A few moments later, AFC Darwen were to be ahead. A quickly won free kick around the halfway line was lumped into the box, with the ball getting lost under the lights for West defenders and bouncing in the six yard box, before taking a nick and going past the hugely unfortunate Hodges. It would later officially be credited as an own goal, but there can be little blame accredited to whoever had the final touch.
The second half started out choppy for both teams, until a series of subs changed the complexion of the game: Chappy Massamba and Georgi Whyment were brought into the fray for Malachi Slaven and Omar McKenzie respectively. Chappy immediately made an impact, with his hard running forcing a series of West chance – but it was Whyment would would make the crucial difference. Following good interplay down the right between Bailey and Massamba, a whipped ball into the box found an unmarked Whyment at the back post, who volleyed home with no little skill to level the game at 2-2.
West were unable to build upon this parity, however. Hodges, who had earlier kept West in the game with a series of saves while Darwen had the upper hand, was to suffer the same fate as his opposite number. A Kiel Lonsdale effort from distance with 15 minutes to go was to take a wicked deflection and take it completely out of the reach of the young keeper, putting the home side ahead and within reach of their fourth victory of the season.
There were chances to level things up before the final moment – notably, a free header that could only be directed over – but it was left until the dying embers for West to salvage a point. Winning a free kick on the edge of the area, it was left up to Joe Shaw to attend to the set piece. Under no little pressure, and with little room for error, the midfielder managed to whip the ball up and over the wall and into the top corner: a fitting finale for any football match, and giving the game the result that both team’s performances deserved.
Hodges Affleck Tinker (c) Eckersley Olapede Slaven Steer Sergeant Bailey Shaw McKenzie
Whyment Reader Massamba